03/21/2005 1:00AM

Time is now for McPeek duo

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Wild Desert, shown with Helen Pitts riding, ran fifth in the Fountain of Youth, but his trainer, Ken McPeek, sees potential for improvement.

When the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes is run Saturday at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., trainer Ken McPeek will be half a world away and presumably sleeping, even though he will have two contenders in the race.

McPeek, who was scheduled to depart from south Florida on Tuesday, will be in the United Arab Emirates to run Prince Arch and two other horses on the Dubai World Cup undercard. While his longtime assistant, Helen Pitts, will be deputized in his absence Saturday at Turfway, McPeek said most of the preparations for his two Lane's End starters, Wild Desert and Diamond Isle, are virtually complete anyway.

"I'm sending them both to the Lane's End because now is the time to find out how good they are," McPeek said Monday from Gulfstream Park. "It's already that time of year."

McPeek long has held out high hopes for both Diamond Isle, owned by Buckram Oak Farm, and Wild Desert, owned by a newly formed partnership headed by Dan Borislow. Whether or not by design, both enter the Lane's End with just one so-so race this year, and McPeek said both are eligible to improve dramatically over their respective seasonal debuts.

Wild Desert ran fifth behind High Fly in the March 5 Fountain of Youth, while Diamond Isle was fourth the same day at Gulfstream in an allowance route behind Noble Causeway, who is widely considered a serious Kentucky Derby prospect.

"They both really needed their last race," said McPeek, who had his best Lane's End finish 10 years ago when Tejano Run ran second to Serena's Song. "I think they both ran good races, and I think they both can move forward four or five lengths Saturday and be right there."

Sunday at Gulfstream, McPeek worked the colts in company. They began and ended five furlongs on even terms, finishing in 1:00.80 over a fast track.

"I liked how they both went," said McPeek. "They're doing really well."

McPeek said both colts would be on a Tex Sutton charter flight to Kentucky on Wednesday.

The McPeek colts were not the only Lane's End prospects out for serious drills over the weekend. The two probable favorites for the 1 1/8-mile race also had their final preps: Spanish Chestnut went seven furlongs Sunday in 1:24.80 over a fast track at Santa Anita for trainer Patrick Biancone, and Magna Graduate went five furlongs Monday in 1:01 over a fast track at Churchill Downs for trainer Pat Byrne.

"My colt is really coming around at the right time," said Byrne.

At least 10 3-year-olds are considered definite for the 34th running of the Lane's End. With known jockey assignments, they are Spanish Chestnut, Gary Stevens; Magna Graduate, Jerry Bailey; Wild Desert, Robby Albarado; Diamond Isle, Dean Sarvis; Mr Sword, Norberto Arroyo Jr.; Silent Bid, Jose Valdivia Jr.; Texcess, Rene Douglas; Andromeda's Hero, Rafael Bejarano; Mayan King, Joe Bravo; and Flower Alley, Jorge Chavez.

The Grade 2 Lane's End long has been a key prep race on the Triple Crown trail. Last year, Birdstone was the odds-on favorite but finished fifth to Sinister G. Birdstone subsequently won the Belmont and Travers stakes.

The secondary feature on the Saturday card is the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes, a non-graded race that is expected to have Proud Accolade, with Bailey riding, as a huge favorite.

The Lane's End and Rushaway will be televised live on a one-hour broadcast on ESPN. Coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. Eastern and will include replays of the Dubai World Cup and UAE Derby.

Three other stakes will be run Saturday at Turfway: the $150,000 Bourbonette Breeders' Cup, the $50,000 Queen, and the $50,000 Hansel.